- Acts 7:55-60
- Revelation 22:12-14. 16-17. 20
- John 17:20-26
We celebrated the Ascension of the Lord on Thursday. Today the 7th Sunday of Easter we continue with the theme of the Ascension in our Eucharistic celebration.
The celebration of the Ascension of the Lord includes the giving of the Holy Spirit so that we will also die and rise with him and ascend with him into heaven in glory! But more than that, we are given the Holy Spirit so that we can be witnesses to his death and resurrection and ascension into heaven so that everyone in the world will die and rise with him from the dead and ascend with him into heaven in glory! What hope! What grace! What hope! The Christian is not only a person of faith and love, but also a person of hope! Will everybody go to heaven and will there be nobody in hell? Yes indeed, that is our hope, and prayer and witnessing!
The Gospel of Ascension Thursday tells us to be witnesses to Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and to preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins to all the nations beginning in Jerusalem. (Lk 24:46-53.) The first reading of Ascension Thursday also tells us to be witnesses not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria and indeed to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:1-11) – so that the whole earth may ascend into heaven with him in glory! What hope for the world!
Today is also World Communications Day and Pope John Paul II in his message has said that no matter which age we belong to, past, present or future, all human beings ask the basic questions of life and death, i.e. Where do I come from? Who am I? What is the meaning of life? Where am I going? And the answer the Pope says is Jesus Christ! And today as we continue to celebrate the theme of the Ascension, the Church proclaims to the world the answer of the Good News, ‘You are loved by God and created by god for love and unity, for peace and happiness! Not for hate and war, not for sadness and suffering! You have been loved and saved by Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit you will die and rise with him and ascend into heaven with him in glory! …..
Today’s readings have also been chosen by the Church to tell us about the Ascension of the Lord and the giving of the Holy Spirit so that we may also rise with him and ascend into heaven with him and so that through our witnessing the whole world may also rise with him and ascend into heaven with him! Again, what hope! What hope!
In the 1st reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see St. Stephen filled with the Holy Spirit had a vision of the glory of God and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. The Jews could not stand this vision of Stephen and stoned him to death. St Stephen the reading tells us died like Christ, surrendering his spirit to the Lord and forgiving his executioners. And most worthy of note is a young man called Saul who today we know as St. Paul!
In this first reading, we see that not only Jesus ascends into heaven, but St. Stephen also has a vision of his glory in heaven and dies like him and with him and in this way rises to a new life with him and ascends into heaven with him! But more than that the young man Saul who was one of the persecutors and executioners through the witness of St. Stephen also as we know from the Scriptures also died and rose with him and ascended into heaven with him in glory!
Again, the Church has chosen the 2nd reading from the book of Revelation to celebrate the Ascension and in anticipation of the celebration of Pentecost next Sunday with the theme “Come, Lord Jesus!” The Church wants to tell us that Jesus did not ascend into heaven to forget us and to leave us alone, but that the Lord will come back to us in the Holy Spirit! This time he will not only be with us, but within us! He will not only be on earth, but in us, so that we may be in Him! This time he will become us so that we become him! That is why in the Eucharist we eat his body and drink his blood, so that he becomes us and we become him! When we eat ordinary bread, the bread becomes us, but when we eat the bread of the body of Christ we become the bread of the body of Christ!
Again, the Spirit is given to us so that we may share in his ascension into heaven in glory and the Spirit is given to us so that we may be witness to Jesus and so that the whole world may share in his ascension into heaven in glory!
The Gospel reading has also been chosen by the Church to tell us that Jesus did not ascend into heaven to leave us alone, but that he will give us his Spirit so that we may share in his glory and so that united into one like him with the Father and with him in us and we in him we may be witnesses to Him so that the whole world may believe and share in his ascension and glory!
I want to draw your attention to the readings of Ascension Thursday again. You may have noticed that in the 1st reading we were told that Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after his resurrection, but the Gospel also written by St. Luke told us that Jesus ascended into heaven on the same day of his resurrection! In other words the Resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost are one and the same reality of the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ which we celebrate in the Eucharist!
In fact, in the early Church, it was not until the 4th century that the feasts of the Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost were celebrated separately – with Ascension on the 40th day and Pentecost on the 50th day! And in fact, even Easter itself was not celebrated as an annual feast until the 2nd century! But from the very first century onwards, Easter, Ascension and Pentecost were celebrated as one big and in fact biggest feast every Sunday in the Eucharist!
I want to draw your attention to this fact so that we may celebrate our Sunday Eucharist every Sunday very seriously and solemnly. For it is here that we celebrate his Death, Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost. For it is here that he Holy Spirit will be given to us so that we will die, rise and ascend into heaven with him. For it is here that the Holy Spirit will be given to us so that we will be his witnesses, so that the whole world will die, rise and ascend into heaven with him in glory!
I want to conclude now with a personal sharing. Some years ago I have proposed to the priests’ meeting that the Ascension be celebrated on a Sunday. This is to emphasize the importance of the Ascension and to show that the Ascension, the Resurrection and Pentecost are one Paschal Mystery! Just as Easter and Pentecost are celebrated on Sundays, so too must we celebrate Ascension on a Sunday!
I have also proposed to the priests’ meeting that every Friday of the 50 days of the Easter season, the faithful be dispensed from fasting, abstinence and penance in order to celebrate Easter! We had been fasting and abstaining and doing penance for Lent and Good Friday, we must also celebrate Easter with joy! Easter is more important than Lent and Good Friday!
A happy Ascension to all of you! A happy World Communication Day to all of you! And a Happy Harvest Festival to all of you!
We thank God for the plentiful harvest and we pray that the Good Lord will continue to bless us with even more abundant harvests! We also pray that God may give us the grace to be good stewards of his creation so that we will not poison the earth with pesticides and chemicals, but that we protect and care for the earth so that it will yield abundant harvests for ourselves and for others!
God bless you! Amen!
Parish Priest of St Mary, Tawau, Sabah East Malaysia.